Topic ID #28329 - posted 4/19/2013 1:21 AM

Historic human remains yield epigenetic tags



Jennifer Palmer

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 Historic human remains yield epigenetic tags
    18 April 2013 by Sara Reardon

DIET, disease and climate moulded human evolution not only by driving gene selection, but also by changing which genes were switched on or off. Such epigenetic changes have now been directly detected in ancient human remains for the first time.

Major environmental factors can affect which specific genes are expressed – or switched on or off. For example, the pattern of methyl groups on DNA bases can be altered, affecting expression without changing the genetic code. If this happens in sperm or egg DNA, the changes can be inherited.

Last year, a team found evidence of DNA methylation in the bones of a 26,000-year-old bison, but it wasn't clear whether it was a fluke. To find out, Rick Smith of the University of Texas in Austin, and colleagues, collected samples from 30 different human remains, ranging from 200 to 6000 years old. They were treated with a chemical that revealed where the methyl tags were when the DNA was sequenced. Comparison of the methylation patterns with modern humans yielded similarities in 27of the samples. Epigenetic changes should therefore be detectable in other ancient remains, says Smith, who presented the findings at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Knoxville, Tennessee, last week.


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